I’m going to tell you something which may make some of you laugh at me. That’s OK, we all need a laugh these days.
I believe in astrology.
There, I said it.
My name’s Jules and I’m a secret astrology believer.
I got into astrology when I was 23, messed up, chronically single, and desperate to know how my life would pan out.
I would sit at my desk in my first job, which I hated and longed to leave, and peruse about five different astrology websites a day.
If one site was a bit downbeat, I would read four more until I found something to believe in.
I would cling like a drowning man to any positive prognostication.
I was like a shipwrecked sailor on a raft, desperately searching the skies for any sign of a breeze.
Then, eventually, I stopped looking to the stars so desperately, and started to row.
But the belief in astrology stayed with me, encrusted on my mind like barnacles on the raft.
My taste in astrology has become more refined since then.
Not for me the dirty street drugs — ie the daily or weekly astrology reports by the likes of Jonathan Cainer.
Hell no, the daily reports are for idiots.
These days I used the good shit. I use an advanced astrology app called TimePassages, which gives me incredibly complex reports on my personal transits.
It’s all about the transits, you see — the various conjunctions that take place when planets pass each other, forming either positive angles like trines or sextiles, or more difficult angles like squares and oppositions, which feel like changing gears without the clutch.
We all have our personal transits, some short-term, some lasting several years. TimePassages gives me a complete run-down of my transits, and a description of what they might feel like.
It basically gives me the same degree of astrological expertise as a Renaissance magus would possess.
There are also transits that affect entire societies. We’re in a ‘Saturn-Pluto’ transit at the moment, which Richard Tarnas — the thinking person’s astrologer — blames for the pandemic and the lockdown.
Astrology has never been more popular. Millennials are turning to it en masse as they try to figure out when they might ever get a job or a house.
One of my philosophy clients, a venture capitalist, tells me her fund is even investing in an astrology app start up.
Apps like Co Star and Sanctuary are attracting millions of dollars in investment.
But here’s the thing.
Lately I’ve started to wonder if it might all be bollocks.
Wait, here me out! I know this is an outrageous and heretical claim. I know I’m probably talking crazy. Let me just talk you through my thinking.
It was when I was reading TimePasses the other day, as I do, to pass the time.
I was reading about the transit of Chiron — the wounded healer. Chiron seems permanently in transit for me. Makes sense huh? I mean, I’m like totally a wounded healer.
Then I wondered…how did people decide this particular rock represented ‘the wounded healer’?
Chiron was discovered on 1 November 1977 by Charles Kowal from images taken from the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. It was initially described as the tenth planet in the solar system, but astronomers now think it’s a comet, or possibly a dwarf planet.
It was named Chiron on April 1 1978, after the centaur. Chiron was a brilliant healer but was unable to heal himself when Heracles shot him with a poisoned arrow.
Astrologers thus decided the comet / small planet Chiron represented the ‘wounded healer’, and we were away to the races — its position at your birth and its movement throughout your life and interactions with the other planets could be interpreted in all kinds of ways.
Right now, for example, Chiron is at a square angle with where Mars was when I was born, which means ‘old wounds’ (ie Chiron) are reasserting themselves with regard to how I assert myself in the world (ie Mars). You see? Easy!
What a brilliant narrative machine astrology is. Endlessly rotating gods, clashing and coming together, like a mechanistic Marvel universe.
You know what, maybe astrology is the first AI story-teller! It’s been going for three millennia, automatically generating drama after drama, it’s the longest-running soap opera ever, and we are still totally absorbed in it.
Now that I think of it, maybe astrology was invented by our celestial parents to keep us pacified and quiet — like a baby mobile!
But then I wondered…who came up with the name Chiron?
I bet Charles Kowal just picked the name because it was a small planet, like a demi-god, and no one had picked Chiron before (although there is a constellation called Centaurus).
And then right after he picked the name Chiron, the world’s assembled astrologers started weaving their stories.
Then I started to wonder, how is astrology meant to work, exactly?
I understand the idea — each planet represents a different energy and area of your life, as does each constellation, and these energies interact creating certain situations, either propitious or tense and difficult.
But how is it actually meant to work? Why do these large rocks have these particular energies? Why is Venus — a barren volcanic landscape enshrouded in sulfuric acid — connected to love? Why does the constellation of Libra have one character and the constellation of Scorpio have another? Because Libra looks a little bit like a scale? And Scorpio a little bit sort of like a scorpion? Really?
Are these planets supposed to be alive? To be gods? I think that was the original idea, that they were gods or spirits, emitting their energy or influence, and you could manipulate that energy through ‘astral magic’.
Is that what astrologers still believe today?
And how is this energy or influence meant to affect us? What’s the theory of change?
What’s strange is that, although there are trillions of words written on what this particular star sign means, or that particular transit, there is hardly anything written on how and why astrology is meant to work — on the underlying theory.
Again, I don’t mean the planets’ characters, the constellations’ characters, the characters of particular transits and so on.
I mean how and why the whole system is supposed to work.
Where is the explanation? Please find me one clear explanation of how and why the whole system is meant to work.
It’s a zombie system. Millennia ago, it was based on the idea that these planets were gods. I don’t think we believe that any more, but the whole interpretive structure is still in place, without any theological foundation or theory of change.
And people invest a huge amount of significance in this zombie system. Marriages are made and broken based on astrological readings!
I’m serious — in China and India, marriages can be made or broken based on the reading of some astrologer. In fact, according to the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaker, 95% of Indian couples won’t even bother going on a first date unless their astrology charts are compatible. In the old days, apparently, couples wouldn’t even bother meeting before the wedding, as long as their star signs were compatible.
Good God. And the entire system is founded on the fact that the ‘constellation’ of Libra looks a bit like a scale, and someone once thought Mars looked angry, because its soil contains a lot of iron oxide, which is red.
In the absence of any clear and credible explanation as to how and why the whole system works, I am going to do something very daring.
I am going to stop paying any attention to astrology.
It is an old belief that doesn’t hold up to examination. It doesn’t make any sense.
We drag all these old beliefs around with us, like barnacles on our hulls, and they just slow us down, take up our time and attention, and prevent us from learning anything genuinely useful and new.
Like…how can humans get to Mars? Never mind Mars fucking transiting Chiron and how this may affect my career. How can humans actually get to Mars?
The rationalist blogger Scott Alexander does an accounting at the end of every year of his beliefs, to see which have been proved wrong, and which he should let go.
We should let go of more beliefs. Have an occasional clearing out. That stupid unexamined belief you inherited from your family or your culture and have kept lying around for decades, taking up space and making the house smell mouldy? Chuck it out! Ditch it! Throw it away!
Make space for fresh ideas!
Lao Tzu said: ‘To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.’
Today, I’m deleting the astrology app.